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Reducing methane emissions is critical to stopping global temperature rise - Big Reuse

Reducing methane emissions is critical to stopping global temperature rise

On Wednesday, under pressure from climate activists and lawmakers, Governor Hochul withdrew her support for a bill that would have changed the way NY's methane gas emissions are measured. Environmentalists successfully fought this change, arguing it would undermine New York's climate change policy and bolster the fossil fuel industry. Methane is responsible for one third of the rise in global temperatures since the industrial revolution. The way we measure the emissions impact is a critical part of climate policy.   

How are methane emissions measured? New York is one of only two states (along with Maryland) that measures the harmful impacts of methane gas emissions by accounting for it across a 20 year period. The federal government and most other states calculate the effects based on an 100 year window.

Why 20 years? Using the 20 year count to regulate emissions is the more aggressive approach to combatting global temperature rise. The dangerous impacts of methane gas emissions are felt quickly. Within the first 20 years after methane has entered the atmosphere, its 84 times as effective at trapping heat as compared to carbon dioxide. After 100 years, it drops to 24 times as effective. This is because methane has a comparatively short atmospheric life – it breaks down into CO2 and water within about 12 years – but during this time it absorbs much more energy, heating the planet significantly. Opponents of the policy change believe looking at its impact on a century-long scale disguises the severity of this damage. 

How dangerous is methane? In both the short and long term windows, methane contributes massively to global warming. It is the world’s second-leading contributor to climate change. Methane emissions can also result in ground level ozone, a dangerous pollutant that harms air quality. 

How do methane emissions fit into our current policy? NY's landmark climate change policy, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (2019) includes a mandate to reduce natural gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and 85 percent by 2050 (based on 1990 levels). When a project is evaluated to make sure it complies with these climate goals, its measurable impacts across the next twenty years must be taken into account. Climate activists believe changing the accounting method would weaken the effectiveness of the policy by calculating the emission to appear less dangerous. Some have estimated it would allow NY to cut one-third less emissions than was originally mandated.

Given the scientific research which shows that the window to avert climate disaster is rapidly closing, the near term impacts of the fossil fuel industry are of dire urgency. Environmental organizations continuing to fight to reduce natural gas emissions and stop the expansion of the fossil fuel industry in NY include: Environmental Advocates NY and NY Renews.
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